'Tis Pity She's a Whore

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Ford

John Ford was born to a distinguished family in 1586. It is known that he attended Exeter College from 1601-1602. At age 16 he left to study at a prestigious law school, the Middle Temple, where he also wrote poems. By 1606, he was unable to pay tuition and was expelled from the school, so he turned to writing to support himself. By 1608 he had made enough money to return to school, but instead he continued to write. Prior to the start of his career as a playwright, he continued to write long poems and essays published as pamphlets. After 1620 he began to write plays, first in collaboration with Thomas Dekker, John Webster, and William Rowley. In the late 1620s he began to write alone, and it is these solo works for which he is most well-known. Very little is known about his personal life, and there is no record of him after 1639, leading many to believe he died shortly after the 1639 publication of The Lady’s Trial. ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore is the most well-known of his works.
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Historical Context of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Following the death of James I (and the end of the Jacobean Period), his son, Charles I took the throne. The Caroline era was dominated by the growing religious, political, and social conflict between the King and his supporters (the Royalist party), and the opposition that evolved in favor of a more representative government. During this period the wealthy had more access to the justice system than the poor, for whom riots offered the most popular means of protesting issues like rising food prices or rent. Since Britain would not have a police force until the mid-nineteenth century, vigilantism and revenge were popular avenues to justice, as symbolized in this play by the Banditti. Religion was also a source of contention, as this period and the two prior political periods had Anglican/Protestant leaders, but England had not fully recovered from earlier religious leaders wavering between Catholicism and Protestantism, which helps to explain Ford’s negative depictions of the Catholic Friar and Cardinal. Thus, although Ford is writing about Italy, his subject matter is informed by the politics of his day in England.

Other Books Related to 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Writing during the Caroline era and in the wake of Shakespeare’s body of work, Ford had a very similar writing style and explored many of the same themes as his literary predecessors of the the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The revenge tragedy aspect of ’Tis Pity puts it in the same genre as Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and two works by Shakespeare: Hamlet and Titus Andronicus. This genre of work focuses on its characters’ desire for revenge, and the fatal consequences that stem from this desire. Additionally, another of Shakespeare’s works that deals with similar themes is Measure for Measure. This play, like ’Tis Pity, concerns topics of justice and injustice in the law, the hypocrisy surrounding female sexuality, and false religious piety. Many critics also liken this play to an incestuous retelling of Romeo and Juliet.
Key Facts about 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
  • Full Title: ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore
  • When Written: ca. 1629-1633
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1633
  • Literary Period: Carolinian
  • Genre: Revenge tragedy
  • Setting: Parma, Italy
  • Climax: Giovanni stabs Annabella
  • Antagonist: Soranzo, injustice, the desire for vengeance

Extra Credit for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Early psychology. Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy greatly influenced Ford’s view of human behavior. The book held that the balance of four bodily fluids determined human personalities, and that unusual (or “humorous”) people had an imbalance of one fluid. Melancholy, in particular, was said to be caused by an excess of black bile. Soranzo refers to Giovanni as “humorous,” and he in particular is characterized by melancholy.

Incest Censorship. In early publications of the work, the play’s title was unprintable and was often replaced with a euphemistic substitution like The Brother and Sister, ‘Tis Pity or simply Giovanni and Anabella. It was omitted entirely from an 1831 collection of Ford’s plays.